Explained: Why is Apple opposing the idea of ‘sideloading’ apps on iPhone


As the European Union (EU) puts more pressure on Apple to allow sideloading of apps and alternative app stores on iOS, Cupertino Wednesday made a case against the argument by publishing a 31-page white paper describing how this move could cripple the “privacy and security protections” of iPhones. This is the second time in the last few months that Apple has defended its stance of not allowing apps outside of the Apple App Store or a third-party app store.

We explain why sideloading of apps isn’t allowed on the iPhone and the potential impact of the EU’s proposed law to regulate big tech and reshape the digital environment.

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Apple’s warning: ‘Sideloading’ iOS apps could increase cybercrime

In the white paper, Apple reasoned why it is opposed to the idea that downloading apps should not be allowed from outside of its App Store. “If Apple were forced to support sideloading, more harmful apps would reach users because it would be easier for cybercriminals to target them – even if sideloading were limited to third-party app stores only,” it reads.

…but what is sideloading of apps

Simply put, “sideloading” apps means installing apps that aren’t available in the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. This, in a way, is a method that lets you download apps that you wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to run on your smartphone.

Google does allow sideloading of apps but Apple doesn’t due to its strict App Store policies and security net built inside the operating system. To download apps from the third-party app store or directly from the web browser on your iPhone, you need to jailbreak the device. Meanwhile, sideloading an Android device involves changing permissions to allow the installation of apps from unknown sources.

Most people don’t need to sideload apps on their phones. Sideloading can be useful if the app you wish to download and install isn’t available in your country. The problem with sideloading is that you can’t trust the source from where the app is being downloaded as there is a high chance of malware being injected onto your phone.

The Apple paper cites research from the cybersecurity services provider Kaspersky Lab showing that the devices powered by Google’s Android operating system have between 15 and 47 times more malware infections than iPhones. Apple says because Android has a poor security mechanism, it supports sideloading.

In a 16-page research paper, “Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps: A threat analysis of sideloading,” published in June, Apple said since downloading apps is possible on Android through third-party app stores, sideloading increases the risk of malware being ported into the devices. When the research paper was released Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games and a staunch Apple critic, characterised the report as “a sea of lies”.

“If Apple were forced to support sideloading via direct downloads and through third-party app stores, iPhone users would have to constantly be on the lookout for scams, never sure whom or what to trust, and, as a result, users would download fewer apps from fewer developers,” Apple’s report says.

EU building pressure on Apple to allow app side-loading

The European Union, which has become the world’s top regulator, wants big tech to comply with the new rules. The Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, two new proposed laws that serve different purposes, will require companies to change how they operate. The proposed Digital Markets Act in Europe could lead to major changes for the App Store and pre-installed first-party applications on the iPhone, impacting Apple’s business model to the core.

Margrethe Vestager, who is both Tech Chief and Executive Vice President of the European Commission, has accused Apple of “using privacy and security concerns to fend off the competition on its App Store”.

In June, Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed that proposed reforms to the App Store are “not in the best interests of the user” and would “destroy the security of the iPhone.” “The current DMA language that is being discussed would force sideloading on the iPhone, and this would be an alternate way of getting apps onto the iPhone,” Cook said.

Lawmakers want more competition in the App store marketplace

Lately, Apple has been on the radar of regulators for its tight control over the App Store and the business model it operates. The App Store has been a major driver of its $17.48 billion in services revenue generated in the most recent quarter. Apple also takes a cut of as much as 30 per cent of revenue generated by apps distributed through its App Store.

But it’s not just European Union regulators who want the competition to grow in the app store market, a similar political pressure on Apple is also coming from Washington. In August, the Open App Markets Act was introduced in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate that aims to give Apple users more control over which apps to download on their devices. It could prohibit Apple from blocking sideloading on its popular iPhones and iPads.

Companies like Epic Games, Spotify, Match Group and Tile have created the Coalition for App Fairness, a group aiming to “create a level playing field for app businesses and give people freedom of choice on their devices.” Both Apple and Google have been accused by app developers of having tight control over their app stores, becoming a sort of gatekeeper with enormous market power.

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